Every year I say that I am going to take my son to Santa Rosa or to San Francisco to see the Nutcracker. And, every year something else comes up that makes it impractical or inconvenient to make the drive. Well, I’m happy to report that this year, I have an in-county solution.
Jeanette Marchais, a local ballet instructor at Kim’s Dance Factory in Middletown, wanted to give her students an opportunity to be part of a traditional ballet performance. Lacking enough accomplished dancers and the financial resources to put on a full length ballet she had to get creative. What she came up with was a unique version of the show she calls The Magic of Ballet! Featuring Nutcracker Excerpts.
She chose Nutcracker because the second act showcases individual pieces called “divertissements” featuring themed dances from around the world including Spanish Chocolate, Chinese Tea, Arabian Coffee, etc. The dances are fairly simple to choreograph and cast, and can be done using just a backdrop to represent The Kingdom of Sweets, the magical land to which Clara and her Nutcracker Prince journey.
In ballet, typically, the story telling is only done through dance and music. Marchais developed the idea to enhance the performance via dramatic storytelling. Clara’s magician Uncle, Herr Drosselmeyer, introduces the Act I story line while music plays in the background and select dancers in costume act out bits of the story in front of the main curtain and on the stage extension. Act II will feature Clara and her Nutcracker Prince’s journey to the Kingdom of Sweets, while incorporating elements of Act I which take place at a grand Christmas party in the “real world.”
Marchais sees this abbreviated version of Nutcracker “as a stepping stone to wet the appetite of the audience and performers for a future full length production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet at a larger venue in Lake County.”
Herr Drosselmeyer effectively sets the stage for those who may not be familiar with the story about a girl who befriends a nutcracker that comes to life on Christmas Eve and wages a battle against the evil Mouse King. The part of Herr Drosselmeyer will be played by Marchais’ 16 year old son, Joshua. He is active in the drama program at Middletown Christian School and is great a voice impersonations. He jumped at the chance to play the part when he found out about his mother’s nontraditional take on the show.
Also in the cast is Jaxun Ehrlich. Active in the Middletown High School Drama Department, he plays the role of the Nutcracker Prince. Ehrlich is also experienced in choir and various styles of dance. He is currently directing a play for his senior project and hopes to become a performing arts teacher. Marchais says that “his enthusiasm and professionalism are an encouragement to the dancers.”
Most of the ballet dancers for this show are between 10 and 14 years old and have all been training with Marchais for at least a year or have had previous ballet training, including Marchais’ 11 year old daughter, Giselle, named after the famous, romantic ballet of the same name. Rounding out the cast are three adult performers Elaine Johns, Carrie Ann Eve, and Tessa Escudé.
Marchais met Elaine Johns when Johns signed up for the Summer Adult Ballet Workshop. Marchais immediately recognized a fellow professional and they found that they were “like minded artistically and had similar backgrounds in training and experience.” Marchais invited her to dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy as a guest artist. Johns has also been collaborating on choreography, costumes, and sets.
Johns grew up dancing in the North Bay with earliest ballet classes under the instruction of Madame Janet Sassoon, formerly of the San Francisco Ballet. At age 8 she fell in love with the art form and is now going into her 30th year of training and performing. Says Johns, “I fell in love with the focus and steady progression of the training. I fell in love with the music, costumes, character roles, mystery and magic. Dancing creates a realm where I can communicate things outside of words. Ballet was the only place I knew of where a person could learn to fly under their own volition.”
Carrie Ann Eve, a local second and third-grade teacher, with a degree in Theatre and a minor in Shakespeare, is a soloist in the Chinese Tea Dance. She brings her stage and acting expertise to the production, and even helped to choreograph the fight scene between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Marchais calls her a “dynamic and energetic dancer.” She can also be seen in the joint Mendocino College/Lake County Theatre Company production of Chicago which opens October 25th at the Soper Reese in Lakeport.
Rounding out the adults is Tessa Escude. Escude, a classically trained musician who has sung with the vocal jazz group “Voices Iowa” and who has sung at Carnegie Hall two years in a row, dances the role of the Mouse King. She is also helping with choreography (as it relates to musicality), staging, and overall brainstorming for the production. And, says Marchais, “she adds a special, dramatic flair to the production.”
Marchais’ husband Erroll will also be lending a hand as a co-producer and running the lights. Both Mr. and Mrs. Marchais are delighted for him to be involved with her shows once again. Mr. Marchais, a former competition figure (roller) skater used to perform in her ballets and work backstage. Now-a-days that’s a little more challenging. She’s a full-time TK, Kindergarten, and First Grade teacher and business owner. He’s the Vice President of an IT company, and they still have 3 of their 4 children at home, but both are enjoying the collaboration.
In addition to having her sights set on a full-length production of The Nutcracker in the next year or two, Marchais hopes to “build on the foundation of this year’s performance” as her students “advance in technique and develop as dancers.” She would eventually like to start a non-profit ballet company and collaborate with dancers from other studios holding auditions and inviting dancers, actors, and performers to join her in putting on professional-caliber productions.
For now, she will be taking her students and their families to see the San Francisco Ballet Company perform the Nutcracker this December and the three great story ballets Cinderella, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet in 2020. Marchais would like to pass on the gift that her mom gave her when she was 8 years old and took her to the “real theatre” to see the Nutcracker which began her lifelong love of ballet. Says Marchais, “I desire to expose the youth of Lake County to live theatre, so that they can see what is out there. I would like them to come to understand that the possibilities are really unlimited for those with a passion, who work hard, and dedicate their lives to perfecting their art form. I have a heart for teaching and a love for my students, and I look forward to seeing which ones will themselves catch the dream, and develop their own love for ballet.”
As an audience member, I am excited to have an opportunity to see this ballet scored by Tchaikovsky. The Nutcracker Ballet features some of Tchaikovsky’s most recognizable works including March of the Toy Soldiers, Waltz of the Flowers, Trepak (Russian Dance) and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The latter features a distinctive instrument called the celesta which produces a delicate, bell-like sound. We’ve all heard these pieces in commercials around holiday time and anyone with small children will instantly recognize these four songs from Little Einsteins.
The Magic of Ballet! Featuring Nutcracker Excerpts will be performed at the Lower Lake Schoolhouse Museum Weaver Auditorium on Saturday, December 14th at 1:00 pm and Sunday, December 15th at 1:00 pm & at 6:00 pm. Tickets are $10.00 and go on sale October 14th. Tickets may only be purchased online through the Facebook page Facebook.com/NBBTNutcrackerExcerpts or by searching “the Magic of Ballet” in the Facebook app. Seating is assigned.
This performance is not recommended for children under age 3 to ensure all audience members can enjoy the show uninterrupted. Please do not bring infants to the show. No lap sitting is allowed and children must have their own ticket.
Jeanette Marchais teaches 9 ballet classes a week as well as a weekly private pointe class at Kim’s Dance Factory located at 21037 Calistoga Road, Suite 5 Middletown, California 95461.
Chicago opens this month on the 25th at the Soper Reese Theatre in Lakeport and runs through November 10th. Showtimes are Fridays & Saturdays at 7 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets can be purchased at soperreeseheatre.com